Apparently political differences are causing people to drop friends, end marriages, and legally divorce their parents. Convinced that his dog Leroy would have voted the wrong way in the 2018 midterms, my friend Dan put the pug up for adoption. And yet, politics has been nothing but positive for my relationships. Maybe some people are bad at talking politics, but I am definitely not one of them because I talk to anyone and everyone about the political issues of the day, and they love it.
My suspicion is that folks are nervous to engage with others about politics because they worry the person might be sensitive about it. Well, let me tell you a secret: we all just want to talk about politics all the time! That’s why I can transition from just about any boring conversation topic someone throws at me into a heated political chat we will both enjoy.
When the man at the drug store asked me if I had seen the basketball game the night before, I replied that I missed it because I was too busy reading an article about the ethics of assisted suicide. He didn’t respond right away. Poor fella, he was shy. I helped him out by adding, “Don’t tell me you’re some squish who thinks that people should be able to end their lives prematurely just because they’re in a little pain.” He immediately nodded his head in agreement. That’s another thing I do. I make it clear what my opinion is so that they have something intelligent and well-researched to agree with. It works most of the time. If they disagree with me, it’s clear they don’t wish to be taken seriously so I laugh them off. I’m all for opposing viewpoints, but there really is only one correct opinion about something as simple as how to fix the budget deficit.
While I’ll talk to anybody, I do have my favorite sparring partners. I love getting into it with Mike, my dry cleaner. Just yesterday I was picking up a pair of pants that I soaked in red wine after swinging my right arm up to make a cogent point. Mike asked me if the pants looked clean. Instead of just saying yes, I remarked, “It’s sure as hell a lot cleaner than that energy bill the House is pushing through, huh?” He chuckled politely. I could tell he didn’t want to deal with the dull customers behind me so I asked him if he knew just how many pounds of coal it would take for a Tesla to drive 1,000 miles. He didn’t know, and I explained that his ignorance was a shame, though likely the fault of the media and not his own. He seemed grateful for my time and information.
Imagine how many productive exchanges would be lost if I didn’t have the courage to force a political conversation on those within earshot. If I stuck to the small talk rules of polite society, I certainly wouldn’t have had a fruitful exchange about Universal Basic Income last week with the young man who bags my groceries. I could tell two things just by his appearance: first, he enjoys personal conversations in the workplace; second, he didn’t think we should have the government pay every lazy fool in the country to sit at home all day, smoking drugs and playing video games. He seemed stunned by my candor when I said as much. Stunned in a good way, that is. Now, he may not have answered me verbally, but he gave me a nod that said, “I’m with you, pal.” I bet I made his day. The last thing he wanted was for me to smile, take my bag, and walk out of his life. The good news, kid, is I’ll never do that.
I once had someone say, “This is neither the time nor place,” after I broached the subject of immigration reform at my granddaughter’s ballet recital. This goes to show you that there are always going to be crazies out there. Despite what that lunatic said, it is literally never the wrong time or place to bring up politics in public. As I said, it’s what every stranger wants. Once you start paying attention, you’ll see what I mean.
For instance, a few months ago I noticed that the woman sitting next to me on the train was reading The Martian. There’s really no better way to silently scream, “Someone ask me about my thoughts on the space program!” than reading that book in plain sight. Happy to take the bait, I pointed at the book and asked her what she thought about government-funded space exploration. She couldn’t hear me so I yanked her headphones off and moved my mouth closer to the canal of her ear. She claimed that space was “cool” but felt the funds could be better spent on earth. I politely explained just how dumb her opinion was by recounting the priceless joy of seeing our heroes land on the moon in ’69. She had moved a few rows away by the time I finished my closing argument, but I believe I changed her opinion entirely. It was a terrific dialogue.
Of course, you can’t spend all day on a train or in a supermarket. So much conversation has moved online these days. Because of that, I need people to know that I am more than happy to talk about politics via email. That’s precisely why my signature is a rotation of quotes from controversial Supreme Court opinions. Anybody can send someone a Happy Birthday message, but how many people–knowing your views on the second amendment–will include in that message an incendiary quote from District of Columbia v. Heller? Only one. And that’s a shame.